Despite what the Detroit Tigers might think, Gary Sheffield believes he still has "a lot left." And with $14 million in his pocket on the way out the door and a team only having to sign him for the major league minimum salary of $400,000, it seems likely that Sheffield isn't going to be unemployed for long. (If only everyone else losing a job in Michigan could bounce back so easily.) But where might Ol' Sheff end up next?
The first place he mentioned as a possible next stop was Tampa. How fortunate that Sheff's hometown team happens to be the defending American League champions. With that status, however, the Rays don't have many holes to fill. However, manager Joe Maddon is flattered a hitter of Sheffield's pedigree is interested. Here's what he told the St. Petersburg Times:
"I have so much respect for this guy as a baseball player. I've gotten to know him a little bit over the last couple years, just having abstract conversations with him. I saw him during the off-season he's in great shape, he's a very strong person. And I like him. Conversationally I really like him. I don't know, again, it's very complimentary that he would want to play with us, and beyond that I have no idea what would happen.''
Did Maddon give Sheff the baseball equivalent of, "Um, that's very flattering, but I'm already seeing someone else"? He might as well have said Sheffield has a nice personality.
But despite Maddon saying that he liked Sheff and hoped they could be friends, there doesn't really seem to be a spot for him on the Rays' roster with the team signing Pat Burrell in the offseason to be their primary designated hitter. And our SB Nation Rays site, DRaysBay, wants nothing to do with this:
We're not living in the year 2003.
Gary Sheffield is not a great player in his current form, nor is he better than Pat Burrell. You don't even have to know what wOBA means to understand this. Over the last three years, Sheffield's line is .254/.355/.436 with 50 homeruns. Burrell's line is .254/.385/.504 with 92 homeruns. Those are not comparable. That's almost .100 OPS points; the difference between Carlos Pena and Randy Winn is less than that, and Randy Winn is a good defender. Park-adjusted and in advanced terms, Sheffield has been worth about 21 runs these last three years. Burrell is closer to 70. One of these players is 40-years-old, that player just so happens to be a poorer offensive player.
Or maybe Sheffield just wants to play in the state of Florida. He's also expressed interest in going back to the Marlins. Maybe we can play this game all week, where beat writers from each major league team asks Sheff if he'd like to play in their city.
But how about the Phillies? As Jayson Stark told us over the weekend, they're looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder. Of course, it's still up for debate whether or not Sheffield can play the outfield on a regular basis. But as Todd Zolecki points out, the defending World Series champions don't need that out of him, either. And he was saying that even before the Phils released outfielder Geoff Jenkins today.
(The Tigers weren't the only team that ate some salary today, as Jenkins will still collect $8 million. By the way, would this be a bad time to recall that Lynn Henning once said there was a 75% chance of him coming to Detroit for the '08 season?)
So do we have a match? Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has already contacted Sheffield's agent. And here's what Mr. Rufus Williams had to say about that:
"We had a very productive conversation with the Phillies," Williams said Tuesday evening in a telephone interview. "We'll take the next couple days to see where we are. It's a hard question to answer at this point. We'll have to see the opportunities that present themselves, and see where he wants to go based on those opportunities."
Could this be sort of a redux of the Pudge Rodriguez situation, where he wanted to play full-time, yet no team thought he could do so, until the Astros finally realized, "Wow, we really need a catcher"? Was Sheffield paying attention this offseason, when right-handed hitting outfielders were having a hard time finding work and had to settle for below-market contracts? (He's excused if he wasn't. After all, he figured he had a job already.)
If Sheff insists on a full-time gig, he might be kicking back for a while. However, if getting that 500th home run means something to him - and you have to think he really wants it - and he still wants to prove he's not done, maybe he'll quickly accept reality, settle for a part-time job with a contending team, and go out more ceremoniously than he did with the Tigers.